Hindu dharma is implicitly at odds with monotheistic intolerance. What is happening in India is a new historical awakening... Indian intellectuals, who want to be secure in their liberal beliefs, may not understand what is going on. But every other Indian knows precisely what is happening: deep down he knows that a larger response is emerging even if at times this response appears in his eyes to be threatening.

Monday, February 03, 2003

Phantom menace

Author: I.D. Swami
Publication: The Hindustan Times
Date: February 3, 2003

From the serene setting in Goa, Prime Minister Vajpayee wished his countrymen a very happy new year. Musing on important issues facing the nation, he said, "Hindutva, which presents a 'viraat darshan' of human life, is being projected by some people in a narrow, rigid and extremist manner - an unfortunate and unacceptable interpretation that runs totally contrary to its true spirit... Hindutva is liberal, liberating and brooks no ill-will, hatred or violence among different communities on any ground."

Soon after the reflections appeared in print, all hell broke loose, as if the prime minister of India had said something that had set the Ganga on fire. The Congress that committed mistake after mistake - starting from the Lucknow Pact and the Khilafat movement to Partition (the decision of a formidable number of Muslims to stay in India confirmed the absurdity of the two-nation theory) - assiduously and successfully following the policy of a Muslim vote bank, got jittery and announced: "The uniquely liberal, broad-minded, tolerant and pluralistic nature of the Hindu dharma has nothing to do with narrow and bigoted Hindutva as propounded by the RSS, the BJP and the VHP that distorts the very essence of our culture, values and legacy."

The Congress, despite having more than a comfortable majority did not carry out the directions of the Constitution after Independence with regard to Article 370, a common civil code and cow-slaughter. The Congress that passed the Hindu Code Bill - despite grave reservations from President Rajendra Prasad - went to the extent of reversing the judgment of the Supreme Court in the Shah Bano case by legislation. It adopted a blinkered approach towards all those issues with an eye on the Muslim vote bank. The Congress still suffers from the same delusions.

Much has been said about the prime minister's musings. Much more has been said about the word 'Hindutva' that was coined in 1923. The word was created not to propagate a cult of hate as pseudo-secularists are trying to make out. G.M. Banatwala of the Indian Union Muslim League (IUML) stated that Atal Bihari Vajpayee's message from Goa was "an essay in deception" and was a "deliberate attempt to confuse the entire nation about the Hindutva threat". Some others called the prime minister a "pseudo-Hindutvavadi". Others chose to see in the prime minister's liberal definition of Hindutva strands of 'pseudo-Hindutva'.

The Congress adopts a studious silence each time it faces the communal politics of Muslims. But when the BJP exposes the majority community's interests, it adopts an aggressive stand. This hypocritical behavior only helps in widening the gap of mistrust between Hindus and Muslims. Can India's nationhood rest on anti-Hindu foundations? Unlike in Pakistan, minorities in India are entitled to a place of honour within the country's constitutional framework.

Adopting an aggressive posture against the majority community has become fashionable for pseudo-secularists. It is neither good for minority communities nor for any political party. As far as demography goes, India is virtually a Hindu State. Can anyone deny that? Anything inimical to majority sentiments neither makes democratic sense nor good politics. Will the wise men and women of the Congress who eloquently lecture us about Hindu dharma and its uniquely liberal, broad-minded, tolerant and pluralistic nature listen?

After the Gujarat elections, the so-called 'secularists' are trying to create a wedge between the two major religious communities of this country. To them, anything inimical to the majority sentiment and everything favourable to the minority sentiment is secularism. Pandering to a particular community's fundamentalism is nothing new for the Congress. It first did that by signing the Lucknow Pact in 1916. The Muslim League had asked for - and got - separate votes, separate electorates and statutory safeguards. Then the Congress hoped for the disappearance of a separate electorate after 10 years - a stand similar to the one adopted in regard to Article 370.

Had there not been appeasement of minorities, there would have been no communal tension in this country. One should stop castigating the BJP for being pro-Hindu. One needs to reconcile with what RSS chief K.S. Sudarshan had said - that Muslims of India will have to learn to live in peace with Hindus. There's no point in distorting his statement and making it sound as if Sudarshan wants Muslims to live at the mercy of Hindus. What was meant was that the Indian Muslim should not go in for a perpetual confrontation with his or her Hindu counterpart.

Who can deny that the 14 per cent population of Indian Muslims lead a better life than those in Pakistan? Indian Muslims have thrived and excelled in every field. The BJP is unapologetically pro-Hindu without being belligerent towards the minorities.

The prime minister reiterated in his message from Goa that he stood by secularism, which is "a concept of the State, enjoining upon it the duty to show respect for all faiths and to practise no discrimination among citizens on the basis of their beliefs". Unlike Pakistan, India has no official religion. Deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani stated that "secularism is so embedded in our thinking that there can be no departure from it".

Unfortunately, the Congress that gave the Muslim League a secular certificate after Partition made fundamentalism the main thrust of discussion after the Gujarat elections.

I would ask 'pseudo-secularists' to ponder over what Hamid Dalwai said in his book, Muslim Politics in India: "Unless Muslim communalism is eliminated, Hindu communalism will not disappear." Swami Vivekananda, whom the prime minister quoted, said, "The essential features of Hinduism are its universality, its impersonality, its rationality, catholicity and optimism."

Fortunately, we do not have too many people who want antiquated edicts to govern the nation's politics and jurisprudence. The people who scorn secularism, democracy and peaceful coexistence between communities are few and their occasional utterances always attract admonition from the leaders of the BJP. India faced - and continues to face - communal problems for centuries. What is the remedy? Our political class, social scientists and intellectuals, irrespective of their religious affinity, must discuss the issue in totality and initiate effective steps to stop fundamentalism that has many faces.

The prime minister also stated that there is no difference between 'Hindutva' and 'Bharatiyata', as both are expressions of the same 'chintan' (thought). Both affirm that India belongs to all and all belong to India. It means that all Indians have equal rights and equal responsibilities. It entails recognition of our common national culture which is enriched by all the diverse religious and non-religious traditions in India.

What Vajpayee said is that we need to affirm and promote true understanding of Hindutva which is forward-looking, which is reform-minded and not one that protects obscurantism and injustice against which all the reformers of the past have fought. So why should some people and political parties get so edgy?

(The writer is Minister of State for Home Affairs)

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